Albanian Cuisine – Fusion Before Fusion

Antipaste courtesy Prince Park Restaurant Tirana, Albania.

For those of you out there a bit confused over exactly what fusion cooking is, a look at Albanian cuisine should shed some light. Long before molecular or other modern cooking disciplines were on the tip of anyone’s tongue, people in kitchens around the world set a variety of culinary wonders on their tables. In Albania, to name one place, blending Turkish, Greek, and Italian ingredients and methods was only natural.

Every region of Albania has, of course, its own local variations on “fused” cooking ideas from many Mediterranean cultures. But in general, Albanian dishes can also be categorized by the use of certain herbs and spices, which are a bit common together in other regions, these are; Oregano, Black Pepper, Mint, Basil, and Rosemary, together with olive oil and butter. As for the staple dishes too, the use of fish and meat is a bit more common in Albania too, in particular the use of lamb, rabbit and chicken with cow meat – and vegetables with just about every dish of any kind. Dishes like Pule me arra (Chicken with Walnuts) have many Eastern European cousins, as does the Albanian favorite Tave Kosi (baked lamb with rice).

Visitors should not be surprised to find lunch is the main meal for most Albanians. It is a very common thing to be served a green salad topped with oil and vinegar, followed by a plate of Sarraga me Limon, or fried sardines with lemon. As to the “fusion” aspects of Albanian culinary delight, a prime example of this is serving an Albanian favorite, Baklava, for dessert. Baklava is a Turkish treat, and Albanian cooks love to cut the filo pastry into shapes topped with nuts and perhaps whipped cream and/or syrup.

baklava

Another Albanian staple, a remnant from the Ottoman Empire too, the Dolma serves as another Balkan favorite and an element infused into many diets. In Romania, I know, the derivative there is the sarmalute, cabbage leaves stuffed with a variety of fillings. Rice, other vegetables, even meats are used to enrich the experience and taste of these. But for an even more widely spread component of Albanian “fusion” offerings, one only has to look to their ever popular tarator (image below), this cold soup of Summer has variations from as far off as Iran, the dish’s origins are not clearly defined however. Made with  made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, walnut, dill, vegetable oil, and water, the salad-like starter is oft served chilled.

Yogurt cucumber salad.

Another universally adopted culinary element, the Qofte të fërguara (meatball) is used around the world, the Albanian variants being fairly like Italian or even the Romanian examples, fried and spicy hot for the average palate. The Turkish originated Boza fermented drink, Byrek shqiptar me perime (pastry filled with vegetables), Tavë me presh (leek casserole from as far afield as Egypt), and Çomlek (rabbit casserole again from Turkey) are other Albanian adaptations.

As the reader can begin to see, today’s fusion cuisine is really just a natural progression (or offshoot) of what is part of what is termed in geography “assimilation” – one society’s adoption of another’s cultural norms or even foods, in this case. Without sounding too academic here, Albania’s wondrous countryside has been desirable for every empire that spread across the region.

Mussels and spaghetti from the Prince Park Restaurant Tirana

For more information on Albanian cooking a good resource is Frosina dot org here. Still more in depth information on Albanian culture and foods can be found in this PDF as well. But for now, we hope this little fusion discovery of Albania foods provokes you to try out some recipes from the region. Until later on “Gëzuar!” from Albania.